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Charlene J. Gray is the new director of Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center.

Under the center’s auspices, Lafayette students conduct more than 25 programs of sustained voluntary service each year, serving human needs in Easton and beyond. The students help others and learn about social problems by combating poverty; mentoring, tutoring, and educating others, and protecting the environment. During the last academic year, nearly half of Lafayette’s students participated in one or more of the center’s programs, giving more than 32,000 hours of service to the Easton community.

Gray brings a variety of experiences to her new role, which she assumed in January. She has many years of experience in leadership development with non-profit organizations. She has led training seminars on topics ranging from creating a reflective learning environment to communicating across cultures. Most recently she directed research and career development symposia at Vanderbilt University, where she is completing a doctorate in education and human development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education. From 1988-94, she was program director of Young Women and Youth Leadership in Tennessee, directing and coordinating women and youth in service and leadership.

At the Landis Center, Gray hopes to continue facilitating meaningful volunteer experiences for students, and to assess the effectiveness of the center’s volunteers. She also intends to further develop resources for faculty interested in incorporating service components into courses.

In addition to Gray, the center’s staff includes a full-time intern and 21 student community service assistants, who organize the volunteer programs, arrange all training and transportation, and handle record-keeping and accounting. Lafayette chaplain Gary Miller also works closely with the Landis Center.

“The Landis Center has a great resource in our student community service assistants,” Gray says. “They add their own expertise and personal experience to the programs. They bring so much energy and enthusiasm. Another big plus is that Chaplain Gary Miller has devised an infrastructure that makes good use of these student resources. They’re organized in teams based on the focus of their work and communicate together in that format.”

Outreach programs include tutoring children, prison inmates, and those learning English as a second language; educating others about AIDS; mentoring and organizing activities for children; serving meals and working in homeless shelters; volunteering in hospitals and emergency squads; visiting nursing-home residents, and others. The center also works with other groups planning service projects and with the Alternative School Break Club.

“Students initiate the volunteer work,” Gray says. “Our role is to be facilitators, which gives them leadership opportunities and frees me up in other areas.”

One of those areas is further strengthening relationships with the community. “It’s very important that we’re not just doing something for the community, but building something in the community that will last,” Gray explains. “We need to be bold enough to say, ‘This is what we’ve been doing, but what do you need that we might be able to offer you?’”

Gray also is a proponent of service learning, in which volunteer work is linked with academics, such as two current interdisciplinary Lafayette courses in which community service is required, “From Generosity to Justice: Addressing Social Problems through Action and Reflection,” a sophomore-level class taught by Miller, and “Why are People Poor? U.S. and Global Perspectives,” a seminar for first-year students taught by Mary P. Beckman, associate professor of economics and business.

“It’s something that’s on the cutting edge of pedagogy on college campuses right now,” Gray says. “I’ll be a resource for professors who want to incorporate service in their courses.

She holds a master of divinity from Southwestern Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, and a bachelor of science degree in home economics and community nutrition from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Gray was honored with the International Angel Award of Merit in 1999, the Peabody Roundtable Award for Teaching Excellence in 1998, and an honors scholarship from Peabody College for 1994-1996. She has been a member of the Christian Women’s Job Corps for Nashville, for which she served as advisory council chairperson; the National Society for Experimental Education; the American Education Research Association; and the Religious Conference Management Association.

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